Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Skamania County resident and auto shop owner who shot from obscurity to headline a nationally watched race, declared victory Saturday night in her bid for Southwest Washington’s congressional seat. The Associated Press also declared her the winner Saturday night.
Gluesenkamp Perez’s lead had narrowed since Tuesday, but after election officials counted more ballots Friday and Saturday Republican Joe Kent now faces a mathematically unlikely path to victory.
On Saturday, Gluesenkamp Perez led her Donald Trump-endorsed opponent with approximately 50.5% of the vote. At least 11,000 ballots remained uncounted, but Kent would have to win the vast majority to take the lead.
“Right up to the end, far-away prognosticators said this race couldn’t be won,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement. “They dismissed the possibility that a moderate Democrat focused on prioritizing the needs of this district over partisan point scoring could win in a rural, working class district.”
Kent campaign manager Ozzie Gonzalez declined to comment Saturday. Kent himself took to Twitter to hold fast that the race results are not yet official. He said his campaign is still working on “ballot curing,” a practice of ensuring ballots are accepted after they’ve been flagged for clerical issues, such as mismatched signatures.
“What the media says is irrelevant, its another narrative designed to stop voters from ballot curing & to force me to concede — not gonna happen,” Kent wrote. “We’re on the streets ballot curing. The fight goes on while talking heads talk.”
A Gluesenkamp Perez victory is a political lifeline for Democrats nationally, and one they did not anticipate, or help come to fruition.
Neither party has yet to seize a majority in the House, despite rumors for months that Republicans would ride anti-Democratic sentiment to an overwhelming majority there and perhaps a majority in the Senate, as well.
It was partly that concern, national prognosticators said, that led many Democratic fundraising organizations to spend their money on defense. Meanwhile, Southwest Washington had long been described as a safe Republican district. Many prognosticators had Kent as a heavy favorite.
Kent, a retired Green Beret with a compelling personal story of losing his Navy wife to a suicide bombing in Syria, had used his campaign to become a conservative media darling. He frequently appeared on FOX News’ Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast.
Kent launched his campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler after she voted to impeach Trump following the Jan. 6 riots. He overcame a crowded Republican field to win the August primary, and seemed poised to ride momentum through November.
Gluesenkamp Perez, meanwhile, declared her candidacy in February 2022 — an entire year after Kent. The 34-year-old mom who owns a Portland auto shop with her husband was optimistic she could slingshot through the field.
“It’s never been a bluer district,” Perez told OPB in May. “Our party is coming together because we know we can win this seat.”
She partly benefitted by Democrats largely avoiding the race. Only one other Democrat — Brent Hennrich — had done any prominent fundraising in the months leading up to the primary. Hennrich then withdrew to allow Gluesenkamp Perez to monopolize the Democratic vote.
Since the primary, Gluesenkamp Perez has run a decidedly left-of-center campaign. She often called Kent a far-right “extremist” while contrasting herself as more of a moderate. Kent has publicly denied the results of the 2020 Election and called the people arrested after Jan. 6 “political prisoners.”
Compared to the shoestring budget she ran before the primaries, Gluesenkamp Perez raised millions after the primaries. Much of that funding came with the help of wealthy benefactors who had previously backed Herrera Beutler.
Still, national Democratic organizations largely ignored the race. In the past two cycles, such organizations spent millions trying to unseat Herrera Beutler. One organization, The House Majority PAC, did spend about $300,000 on Gluesnekamp Perez’s behalf.
“Marie’s victory is a testament to the power of hard work and authenticity, and we are thrilled to have her in Congress fighting for families like hers across the country,” said Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democrats’ major fundraising apparatus, the DCCC.
Gluesenkamp Perez noted the long odds in her statement.
“But national pundits did not know this district and its communities the way we do here on the ground,” she said. “They want their independent voice in Congress to be a small business owner and a mom who works in the trades, not an extreme politician seeking celebrity.”